Thursday August 25th 2016

Think of a giant jukebox stuffed full of great pop music hits from the 1980’s. Great songs by the likes of Simple Minds, Tears For Fears, The Thompson Twins, U2, Paul Young and Tina Turner. Now take that giant jukebox, position it on stage at Toronto’s CNE Band Shell, depress the play button  and observe as Glass Tiger lead vocalist Alan Frew brings said jukebox to life with his new nine-piece band belting out a succession of golden oldies, many gleaned from Frew’s latest album release  80290Rewind

Stealing a page from his mate Rod Stewart, who has turned covering American Classics into a cottage industry with a succession of `Storybook’ releases, Frew and his new-look revue, which comprised of two guitarists, a bassist, a keyboardist, drummer, back-up female singer and three-piece horn section, raced through a set of golden oldies that could have gone on for hours, had CNE officials allowed them to keep playing.

Alan Frew
Alan Frew

Setting the stage for this 80’s theme night  with an audio montage of key news and music clips from that time frame which concluded with the inevitable repetition of “Bueller, Bueller”, “Bueller”, “Bueller” from that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off movie classic, Frew and friends launched into their set with a cover of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me”.

Even thought attendance numbers had been compromised by a torrential rain storm which threatened to sabotage the entire evening, those brave souls who defied the elements were treated with a none-stoppage barrage of classic nuggets. And the fact that the crowd knew the words to every song performed only added to the event’s  ‘kitchen party’ atmosphere.

And you can tell that Frew’s band, especially guitarists Sean Kelly and Russell Gray were in their element, rattling off familiar songs like Tears’s For Fear’s “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”, Paul Young’s “Every Time You Go Away with the three-piece horn section used to great effect during a rousing version of Midnight Oil’s classic “Beds Are Burning”.

Frew captured the spirit of the 80’s when he stepped forward with a Polaroid Land Camera and snapped a selfie. ” You take a picture, shake the camera and in a few seconds, out pops a picture from the top. Bloody marvelous, you’ve  really got to get one of these,” he joked.

And there were tributes:  Frew sang a moving version of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares To U” in memory of the song’s writer Prince and then, for the band’s encore, he rattled off a list of great Canadian iconic images; Tim Horton’s, the Toronto Maple Leafs etc, before spotlighting an event which occurred last week, The Tragically Hip’s final concert in Kingston Saturday August 20th.

Considering Frew  faced his own mortality last August when he suffered a life-threatening stroke incident of his own, his cover of the Hip’s  “Blow At High Dough” his tribute to Gord Downie came across as emotionally heart-felt.


[styled_box title=”Alan Frew – Someday” color=”black”][/styled_box]


And yes, there was a Glass Tiger song included in the set, a well-crafted, slowed-down rendition of “Someday” which did not seem out of place amidst the rest of the set list classics. But then again, Glass Tiger rightfully takes their place amongst that 80’s pop elite.

To get a perspective of how deep their set list was, Frew announced the band was running out of time and asked for the crowd’s choice of a final song,  choosing between Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love”, John Waite’s “Missing You” and U2’s “With Or Without You”, the crowd stumping for the latter, with the band also squeezing in a refrain from “Sunday Blood Sunday”.

Then it was back for a three-song encore which Frew led off with his Hip tribute before finishing with Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax” and a rousing finale of Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” – and yes they were!

The Spoons
The Spoons

An amazing thing happened when The Spoons set the stage for the night’s 80’s theme. Maybe the crowd were still shaking off the effects of the downpour they had just endured and maybe lead vocalist/guitarist Gord Deppe, bassist Sandy Horne, drummer Chris McNeill and youthful keyboardist Casey MQ felt the dour vibe that resonated from the apathetic crowd but there was a decided lack of enthusiasm from the band as the opened with a string of hits; “Arias And Symphonies”, “Nova Heart” and “Old Emotions”.

Yet when the band began playing lesser known tracks like “Bridges Over Borders”, “Waterline” and “Rodeo”, their set came alive, the band stretched out musically and the crowd responded enthusiastically. By the time the Spoons got around to “Romantic Traffic”, everyone was on board. Their faux intro to “Tell No Lies” might have been a little off-putting (At one point Deppe had to ask “Do you know what song we are playing?”) but then they switched to their tried and true version and again the crowd responded.

The Spoons even snuck a new song in titled “End Of Story” but the big surprise came during their set finale when they decided to reprise “Nova Heart”  with a 2016 EDM version. The result was stunning. Casey MQ, reminiscent of a young Rob Preuss, totally transformed the track with his keyboard dance rhythms, Deppe and Horne also got to stretch out instrumentally and the resulting track proved to be totally in sync with today’s EDM movement.

Considering that today’s EDM movement is the bastard child of the 80’s synth rock scene which sparked The Spoons in the first place, this new direction bodes well for the band’s future. A complete rework of previous material in the same spirit as Nova Heart would be a wise move on their part.

(Alan Frew Photo’s courtesy Allan Zilkowsky)


[styled_box title=”The Spoons – Nova Heart” color=”black”][/styled_box]

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